Sunday, February 12, 2017

Penis Jokes

The Brothers Grimsby (2016): written by Sacha Baron Cohen, Phil Johnston, and Peter Baynham; directed by Louis Leterrier; starring Sacha Baron Cohen (Nobby), Rebel Wilson (Dawn), Mark Strong (Sebastian), and Isla Fisher (Jodie): A barbaric yawp of a comedy had me laughing at points and cringing at others. Though the cringing was mostly done during the scenes of mawkish sentimentality that occur periodically, parodies I assume of the mawkish sentimentality of many action movies. 

Sacha Baron Cohen takes aim at the British class system and action movies, roughly in that order. He's a welfare yob from infamously depressed Grimsby (a real city); Mark Strong is his long-vanished brother, a James Bond-type superspy. They team up to save the world from a nefarious scheme that will reach fruition at the (never-named because of copyright reasons) World Cup final. You know this is an unrealistic movie because England is playing in that final!

The grotesque comes hard and fast (that's what she said!) and without modulation or regret. Director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk, Now You See Me) doesn't have the chops to accentuate the comedy at all times, which means that stretches of the movie play like the action movies it is parodying. Cohen manages a weird, almost Rabelaisian sweetness at times -- Nobby is a knob and a yob, but he loves his family and he's capable of self-sacrifice. Mark Strong plays off Cohen well as a straight man; more importantly, he's cinematically plausible as a superspy action hero. He's like a more self-aware Jason Statham. 

I laughed a lot, so I guess I liked it. The elephant scene alone should really have nabbed this movie a Make-up Oscar nomination. Recommended.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016): written by Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone; directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone; starring Andy Samberg (Conner), Jorma Taccone (Owen), Akiva Schaffer (Lawrence), Sarah Silverman (Paula), and Tim Meadows (Harry): The Lonely Island boys make a pop mockumentary (mock popumentary?) about a gormless pop-rap group and its even more gormless frontman (Andy Samberg). 

As with Lonely Island's song and video parodies, it's too sweet to be blistering satire. In the Classics game, they'd probably call this Horatian. Nonetheless, while certain things wear out their welcome, there are a lot of laughs here, many of them riffing on real-world occurrences that include U2 releasing an album on all the iPhones in the world and a lot of real-world songs and videos by people that include Macklemore and One Direction. 

It's no This is Spinal Tap -- what is? -- but it's a mostly fun 90 minutes with a lot of laugh-out loud moments in the songs and the scenes. There's also something refreshingly weird in a scene involving Samberg reluctantly signing a fan's penis. Recommended.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Buddies in Bad Times

The Nice Guys (2016): written by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi; directed by Shane Black; starring Russell Crowe (Jackson), Ryan Gosling (Holland), Angourie Rice (Holly), Matt Bomer (John Boy), Margaret Qualley (Amelia Kuttner), and Kim Basinger (Judith Kuttner): Writer (Lethal Weapon) and occasional director (Iron Man 3) Shane Black really loves buddy movies. And movies set in Los Angeles. Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are the unlikely duo here as hired muscle and private eye, teaming up to solve a missing persons case tied somehow into the American auto industry. Did I mention it's 1977? It's 1977. 

Black gives Gosling's character a much less foul-mouthed version of Bruce Willis' daughter in The Last Boy Scout and a much less gay partner than Kiss Kiss Bang Bang's Val Kilmer in Russell Crowe. Crowe, unshaven and lumpy, looks like he's auditioning to be a young John Goodman. And he's great! The movie is violent, quippy fun, a throwback to buddy movies that were actually violent, quippy fun. Recommended.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005): written by Brett Halliday and Shane Black; directed by Shane Black; starring Robert Downey Jr. (Harry), Val Kilmer (Perry), Michelle Monaghan (Harmony), and Corbin Bernsen (Dexter): Violent, quippy, twisty fun from Shane 'Iron Man 3' Black. Val Kilmer is surprisingly light and funny as the LA Private Eye everyone calls 'Gay Perry.' Robert Downey, Jr. is also light and funny as a thief who stumbles into a case involving suicide, murder, and missing persons. And Michelle Monaghan makes for a great gal pal who may also be a femme fatale. The movie's 'chapters' all use the titles of works by Raymond Chandler, first famous chronicler of LA PI's. Like most great PI stories, it's narrated (by Downey's character). Unlike most of them, people keep correcting the narrator's grammar. Terrific cult fun. Highly recommended.

The Hateful Eight (2015): written and directed by Quentin Tarantino; starring Samuel L. Jackson (Major Warren), Kurt Russell (John Ruth), Jennifer Jason Leigh (Daisy Domergue), Walton Goggins (Chris Mannix), Tim Roth (Oswaldo Mobray), Michael Madsen (Joe Gage), Channing Tatum (Jody), and Bruce Dern (General Smithers): I'm glad I didn't see the Director's Cut 'Roadhouse' version of The Hateful Eight because this version is already too long and that one is 25 minutes longer.

On the bright side, there's a great 95-minute movie buried inside The Hateful Eight's repetitive bloat. On the dark side, The Hateful Eight's repetitive bloat. Tarantino's homage to John Carpenter's The Thing is very much in love with Tarantino's dialogue because, well, it's written and directed and at points narrated by Quentin Tarantino. If nothing else, it suggests that the on-screen love affair between Tarantino and the 'N' word that first bloomed in Reservoir Dogs has only grown more impassioned over the intervening two decades and change.

The actors are all fine. The action, when it comes, has the power to shock with both surprise and grue. The landscape is white and menacing. The characters never shut up. And a recurring bit with a door that won't close may have seemed funny on paper, but it surely does wear out its welcome quick. I'd have liked more from Bruce Dern and Michael Madsen and a whole lot less from Walton Goggins, an actor I like but not particularly in this part. Tarantino's threat to stop making movies after this one... yeah, I'm fine with that. Because no one's ever going to edit down a Tarantino movie to a length that works. It's a lot more likely that his next project would be a four-hour remake of The Car entitled N*gger Car. Not recommended.

Hidden Figures (2016): adapted by Allison Schroeder and Theodore Melfi from the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly; directed by Theodore Melfi; starring Taraji P. Henson (Katherine Johnson/Goble), Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan), Janelle Monae (Mary Jackson), Kevin Costner (Al Harrison), Kirsten Dunst (Vivian Mitchell), Jim Parsons (Paul Stafford), and Glen Powell (John Glenn): How does Taraji P. Henson not get a nomination for this? Oscar noms for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (Octavia Spencer) and Best Adapted Screenplay have been given to this fine docudrama. Does it play fast and loose with the facts, especially in compressing 15 years worth of events into two years? Well, yeah. So, too, so many other docudramas and biopics. 

But Hidden Figures presents the Space Race as a thrilling exercise in math, engineering, and race relations. How great is that? The acting is superb, from Kevin Costner's (composite character) team leader of NASA Langley's mathematicians striving to put an American in space and in orbit to the aforementioned Henson as pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician who helped put Americans into orbit and on the Moon. Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae also do terrific work as an African-American computer-team leader and engineer, respectively. It's a movie about the thrill of intelligence and lofty aspirations, dominated by women. Highly recommended.